Graduation Speech - DOC by fjwuxn

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                                   Graduation Speech

                                    Dr. James Culhane

Welcome graduates, friends, family, and colleagues. It is my distinct pleasure and true

honor to have the opportunity to address you today.

When I was first notified about the Carpenter Award and that I would be delivering the

keynote address at Fall Commencement I was a bit overwhelmed. All of the keynote

addresses that I have heard in the past were delivered by eminently qualified individuals

with years of professional and life experience. Let me be perfectly honest with all of you

right now, I have neither eminent qualifications NOR an abundance of professional and

life experience. Because of this I immediately began soliciting advice from friends and

colleagues about possible topics for my speech. While I received many good suggestions

none of them seemed to fit my style and personality.

In July I attended the annual meeting of the American Association of Colleges of

Pharmacy in Orlando. While I was there I attended the keynote presentation delivered by

Daniel Pink best-selling author of A Whole New Mind and Free Agent Nation.

Mr. Pink was a tremendously engaging and dynamic speaker who began his presentation

by sharing with the audience the three components of any great speech. Needless to say I

grabbed my pen and a tablet and waited breathlessly for the revelation that was going to

save this commencement address. According to Mr. Pink the three components of any

great speech are: BREVITY, LEVITY and REPETION.

As I began the process of drafting my speech, I very quickly had to come to grips with

one inescapable fact….To write a speech that is classy, and inspirational yet deep and

meaningful takes a very special kind of person and well……I’m just not that kind of guy.

So, please now keep in mind the personal limitations that I mentioned before, my lack of

real life experience and the fact that this is my first public address as I present to you

some down home, simple advice to help guide you as each of you leave us here at Wilkes

to embark or continue on your own personal life journey.

Without further adieu I give to you Jim’s top 5 tips for lifelong success and happiness.

Tip #1: Comes from my dad who is a retired aircraft mechanic with USAIRWAYS. My

dad was a great influence in my life and a very supportive guy. When my brother and I

were young my dad would say to us” When you two grow up, you can be anything that

you want to be…. as long as it’s a doctor, lawyer or dentist…… My dad’s tip is as


No matter what you do in life make sure you make enough money to pay the bills.

My father is a very practical man. He was born in 1942 and was raised by parents who

lived through the Great Depression and the war. I suspect his practical values came from

them and his own life experiences. I also think that he didn’t want his sons to have to

work 3 or 4 overtime shifts a week de-icing airplanes in order to pay the bills.

I think my dad’s advice is sound, however, I would also like to add my own take on

TIP#1. In Daniel Pink’s presentation he mentioned that we live in a time of

unprecedented abundance. Certainly this abundance is not shared by all, however, if I

were to take a survey of this audience I suspect that most of you own at least two

cars….or more, own a home, have multiple TVs, cell phones, computers and other

“gadgets” that make life easier to live.

Yet according to survey data presented by Pink, despite this abundance, Americans today

are no more satisfied with their lives than those that lived 50, 60 or even 70 years

ago…during times when the above mentioned luxuries and technologies were unheard of.

When I reflect on my own life I see a similar pattern. I have a beautiful home, a truck so

big I can hardly fit it in the parking garage across the street. We have multiple TVs, cell

phones and other technologies that are supposed to make life great. But you know what,

these things, while I enjoy them do not make me happy. Some of things that give me

great joy and satisfaction are the simple things like helping my three year old daughter

dress her Barbies, going on a date with my wife, helping a neighbor or friend with a

home improvement project, or staying late at work to help a group of students understand

a difficult concept. My message for you is this. In our very busy, materialistic, society

try not to loose site of the simple things in your life that provide you with great joy and

great satisfaction.

Jim’s Tip #2: This tip is a great one for around the workplace. Wherever you work

surround yourself with brilliant, enthusiastic and highly motivated people and then

mooch off of them for all they are worth……

I am a Pharmacologist by training, but I always tell my students that I am a frustrated

English Professor disguised as a scientist (I can’t help it I have a liberal arts degree).

Normally, I spend most of my days either explaining to students how drugs work in the

human body or spending time in the lab with an extensive collection of test tubes, Petri

dishes and really expensive equipment that I should never be allowed to touch.

Over the last few years I have found myself involved in research projects that most of my

Pharmacology colleagues would find… should I put this….odd at best. I however,

have found them to be incredibly enjoyable and rewarding. Because of my collaboration

with enthusiastic, motivated and incredibly talented faculty members in other disciplines

I have been able to help produce a documentary film and coauthor a book on the History

of Pharmacy in the Wyoming Valley. Next year my colleagues and I are planning to take

a group of Wilkes students to East Africa for a community outreach/public service

project. I get to spend three weeks studying traditional medicine in a small Ugandan

village. I can just see my doctoral advisor shaking his head….

Don’t be afraid to work with and engage people with different talents, backgrounds, and

expertise. You never know where it will take you. These collaborations will produce

magic moments where your different perspectives on problems will lead to creative ideas

and solutions. They can also be some of the most rewarding moments in your career.

Jim’s Tip #3: If you ever have the opportunity to help someone, take it. You can never

predict how the ripples from one kind act can change the world.

If anyone ever told me I was going to be a professor, I would not have believed them.

Throughout my childhood and early adult life I had my sights set on becoming a

physician, (PLEASE SEE TIP #1). Fate had other plans for me. As a senior in high

school I was forced, because of scheduling conflicts, to take on a more rigorous academic

schedule than I thought I was capable of handling. My schedule included a litany of AP

courses, among others AP Chemistry. While I enjoyed chemistry it did not come easy to

me and I worried all summer if I would be able to perform well in this class. In the early

fall, the day came when we had to pick our AP chemistry lab partners. I knew I had to

choose carefully as the lab component of the course counted for a significant part of the

grade. I asked a friend, Anthony Rosello, to be my lab partner. Anthony was ranked first

in our very competitive class and was the smartest person I knew (PLEASE SEE TIP#2).

Anthony agreed despite knowing that I was not as strong academically as he. If I

performed poorly in the lab I knew it could cost him his grade, important class ranking

and perhaps admission into the United States Air Force Academy. I promised him I

would work hard and I knew that I could not let him down. That year chemistry, as I had

anticipated, proved to be very challenging, but Anthony was there helping me all the way.

He didn’t carry me as he could have, but like a true teacher, took the time to make sure I

understood all the theoretical aspects of each lab, encouraged me to perform difficult

components of the experiments, as well as taking the time after school to tutor me on the

more difficult concepts. At the end of the year as we parted ways I told him how much

his help meant to me and that I would never be able to repay him for his kindness. As a

way to repay Anthony, I made a promise to myself, that if I ever had the opportunity to

help someone else, as he had helped me, I would.

       It turned out that over the next 10 years I had many opportunities to help others.

Anthony’s tutoring in and out of class ultimately gave me the confidence to not only

pursue a degree in chemistry, but to help many of my classmates and underclassman as a

tutor and lab TA. While working on my Ph.D. I had early classroom teaching experiences

that continued to move me toward my current career. Throughout all of these experiences

I was constantly exposed to the tremendous fulfillment that comes out of participating in

the learning process. It was through these experiences that I developed my love for


       Anthony Rosello ultimately made it into the Air Force Academy and ended up

serving as a C-5 Galaxy Transport pilot with the United States Air Force. As happens

with many of our childhood friends, I lost touch with him over the years. I never had the

opportunity to tell him the impact that he had on my life. Despite this I keep living out

the promise that I made to myself almost twenty years ago.

       In my career I may never be awarded a large scientific grant, publish in a famous

journal or discover and characterize a new drug to cure or treat a disease, however, if I

can touch and inspire just one person with my enthusiasm and love for teaching the way

that Anthony did for me, then I will consider my career a success.

Tip#4: Bear with me on this one. If you should every find that the Senior Drill Sergeant

has taken your unsecured M-16 A1 assault rifle, make sure you retrieve it as soon as


The thing that I am most proud of in my life is my military service. I served in the

Pennsylvania Army National Guard for 10 years as a non commissioned officer and

combat medic. When I was 18 I went to Basic Training at Fort Dix, NJ. During the final

week of our training we participated in an 18 mile tactical road march exercise. At the

end of this exercise we were required to dig foxholes with our entrenching tools as part of

our defensive positions. Now for those of you not familiar with the Army entrenching

tool, I can tell you that digging a foxhole that will protect you from bullets, hand

grenades and artillery barrages with one is sort of like washing a HUMVEE with a


As I began to dig my foxhole I noticed that the butt of my rifle, which at the time was

slung over my back, began hitting me in the back of the head every time I bent over to get

a shovel full of dirt. After about ten minutes of pummeling I had had enough. I handed

my rifle to my Ranger buddy, Brian DeLong, and asked him to watch it while I continued

to dig. Sometime over the next 10 minutes the Sr. Drill Sgt. happened by, took my rifle

from Private DeLong, and snuck away adding my rifle to a collection of about 40 others.

Eventually I finished digging, turned around to get my rifle only to find it was missing. I

knew that I was in serious trouble.

After dinner I mustered enough courage to approach the Sr. Drill Sgt. in order to retrieve

my weapon. I walked up to him, assumed the parade rest position and said in my most

military voice” Sr. Drill Sgt. Pvt. Culhane reporting to retrieve my weapon and receive

my punishment.” He looked me up and down considering what I had just said and then

spoke” Pvt. Culhane, what do you think your punishment should be?” I thought carefully

and then responded” Sr. Drill Sgt. How does 75 push-ups sound?” ?” He replied, “That

would be fine Pvt., knock them out”. So I assumed the front leaning rest position and

began doing my push-ups. The Sr. Drill Sgt continued to question me while I was serving

out my sentence and was amused to find out that I was from a small town in western

Pennsylvania named 84. For that indiscretion I was given an additional 84 push-ups. In

retrospect I guess I didn’t think carefully enough. Well, I finished my push-ups (barely),

was given my rifle back and dismissed. I was given my rifle back and dismissed. As I

walked away, the Sr. Drill Sgt threw out the rest of the coffee in his canteen cup, stood up

and then called the other 40 soldiers over who had not retrieved their weapons. He made

them do calisthenics for 2 solid hours.

When you turn on the TV it is common to hear stories of politicians, movie stars, pop

singers and athletes who have made any number of really big mistakes. It is a rare few

that will stand up in public and admit their errors and accept responsibility for them. I

believe our young people deserve better role models. Everyone makes mistakes; it is a

part of everyday life. Don’t be afraid to admit your mistakes and accept responsibility for


Tip#5: Every so often perform a job related reality check. This tip comes from a question

that Daniel Pink posed to his audience during his AACP address. “If tomorrow you hit

the lotto for 20 million dollars or your doctor told you, you had 10 years left to live,

would you continue going to work?” I had never heard this question before and what

surprised me the most as I sat there in the audience was the speed at which my answer

came to me. Absolutely and unequivocally yes. Make sure your job, career or profession

is meaningful to YOU. Everyone I think has felt the frustration associated with having an

annoying boss, a know-it-all co-worker, or feeling as though you are underappreciated

and underpaid. If you sift through all of that and the answer to this question is still no,

consider what you are doing. Perhaps its time for a career change or at the very least a

trip to the Turkey Hill to play the Power Ball.

Well like any good college professor it has taken me, oh, about 15 minutes to make a

point that most people could in about 2. I knew from the beginning that this whole

BREVITY thing just wasn’t going to happen. But hey, like the old Meatloaf song

says….2 out of 3 ain’t bad. This is certainly an exciting time for all of you. As you go

forth, recognize that life is often the best teacher. It has certainly been for me. Stop every

once in awhile and take stock of your own experiences. You might just be able to

generate your own top 5 list.

Congratulations and may your lives be filled with great joy and happiness and may all of

your pursuits be as fulfilling as mine have been for me.

Thank You

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